Not to sound like the old guy in the room, but Saturday morning cartoons just aren’t the same anymore. In fact, Saturday morning cartoons seem to be nonexistent. Sure, there are some originals, like Rick and Morty and Adventure Time, but for the most part kids nowadays are being feed a refried equivalent to what my generation watched back in the 80’s and 90’s. Marvel based cartoons (Avengers, Hulk, X-men), thanks to the recent surge of super hero movies during the 2010’s, have found themselves gaining rating with the younger generation. DC’s Young Justice League seems to be rather popular these days. There is even going to be a new take on Batman, called Son of Batman, though I doubt it’ll have the same luster as the original animated series. And sweet baby Jesus, even My Little Pony has made a (some what disturbing) come back! My favorite Saturday morning cartoon, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been revamped and are as popular as ever, there is even a Micheal Bay live action adaptation coming out. And will we see the evil cogs being manipulated by the brain-ish blubbering Krang? No, I seriously doubt he’ll make an appearance.
While today’s cartoons may mimic the ones from our Saturday morning heyday, they are however not the same. It seems like cartoons, or at least the cartoons I enjoyed, back in the 80’s and especially the 90’s were darker, grittier. Not because these pre-HD days, but because the writers and producers seem more willing to take risks and weren’t afraid to show audiences something disturbing. Looking back on it now, even cartoons as far removed from what’s consider traditional horror, would sometimes introduce new character origin stories or plot arcs that involved something tiptoeing the verge of gruesome. Consider the following Terrifying Moments in Cartoon History and tell me if kids are still getting the same cartoons as we did:
1. Clayface (Batman: The Animated Series)
Even now, I can still remember how Batman: The Animated Series was the sole Saturday morning cartoon I looked forward to the most. but when I watched the washed up has-been actor Basil Karlo jumped by a bunch of shadowy gangsters who poured a tub of experimental, addictive cosmetic (which applied in small doses, allowed Karlo to hide his scars) over his gurgling face, I was a bit surprised and applauded this daring take on a iconic comic villain. I’m not sure what was more intense, watching Karlo near choke to death or that he was an absolute sympathetic character who wasn’t really a complete “bad-guy.” He was just a guy who made not so great choices and went through something horrible. This is what made the Batman of the 90’s so darn good. Not all villains are caricatures, sometimes they are people who rationalize their own reasons for doing the things they do.
2. Baxter Stockman (TMNT)
TMNT had a few questionable character creations (Bebop & Rocksteady), but Dr. Stockman takes the cake. This was a Saturday morning kids cartoon that gave a nod to Goldblum’s 1986 eccentric scientist who’s experiment does terribly wrong (watch, The Fly, if you have no idea what i’m talking about…go, now, watch). A CHILDREN’S CARTOON MIND YOU!! No judgments, but damn… could you imagine if some PTA crazed soccer mom saw this reference…and actually understood that Baxter was totally Seth Brundle?!?
3. Man-Spider (Spider-man, 1994 Fox Animated Series)
Spider-man was another Fox Saturday morning animated line up that I enjoyed as an adolescent. It was fun with lots of action and plenty of villains for Peter Parker to fend off. Until the morning when Peter became the monster and transformed into this cuddle bug. The story followed a “what-if” scenario that’s actually part of the larger Spider-man comic universe where the bite that gave Parker his abilities continued to change him.
4. Ghash (The Real Ghostbusters, 1986)
Believe it or not, the Real Ghostbusters animated cartoon used to be widely popular. And for a cartoon based on a comedy about a business that catches and contains ghosts, we should expect some aspect of macabre. However, the episode Slimer, Come Home was a little bit darker than what my younger self anticipated. I can still remember the howling growl of Ghash calling the other poltergeists to him, “Come to me.” There was just something about the Lovecraftian mouth on the stomach and the bubbling skin that kept me from eating pizza for at least week.
5. Morph (X-men Animated Series, 90’s)
Nothing was more exciting than getting to watch the X-Men on Saturday mornings. But… in the first few episodes fans were introduced to some rather complex and disturbing content. The death of Morph is a moment in animated history I will not soon forget. Everything seemed to be going right. The mutant crew were giving as good as they got from the Sentinels, but Wolverines screams of anguish for the loss of his friend burrowed deep in my memory; his loss was our loss.
I think it goes without saying, they don’t make em’ like they used to! My favorite old an saying is how back in my day, cartoons actually scared you. What are some of your favorite terrifying cartoon moments? Leave them below in the comments section!
Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.